Patients to do rehab at home, thanks to tech

An NUH staff using an iPad to demonstrate the new tele-health system to monitor the recovery of stroke patients at home.
PHOTO: Patients to do rehab at home, thanks to tech

SINGAPORE - Stroke patients may soon be able to recover in the comfort of their own homes, with a trial under way to allow them to carry out therapy sessions that can be monitored via "teleconference".

Currently, some patients may miss rehabilitation sessions and go into a "downward spiral" as they find it hard to travel to hospitals for appointments. They often have to depend on a caregiver to take them to the hospital.

"With this system, caregivers can do the exercises with them at any time," said Associate Professor Gerald Koh of the National University of Singapore, who is heading the trial.

NUS is now testing the system on eight patients at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital (AMK-THKH).

Each goes through a three-month trial before they are assessed for mobility improvements.

Researchers hope to extend the trial to 50 patients in the next two years.

Under this system, patients do exercises prescribed by therapists by watching videos on Apple iPads. Sensors are attached to the body parts that patients exercise and data is transmitted via Bluetooth to the iPad. Patients can tell if they are carrying out the movements correctly as the word "good" flashes on the iPad if they are.

Using the system, patients' exercise data can be converted into graphs for therapists to check for anomalies. Therapists can also look at recordings of the exercise session to see what went wrong.

Teleconference sessions are held once a week. All equipment in the trial, including the iPads and the MyRepublic fibre broadband connections, are sponsored.

Hospitals say this system can help conserve resources. "The system potentially frees up beds and manpower in community hospitals," said Ms Carolina Png, deputy director of Allied Health at AMK-THKH.

This "telerehabilitation" is free during the trial. When introduced later, it is expected to cost $1,200 for three months, twice that of centre-based rehabilitation.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said the Government was exploring the use of telehealth systems for elderly patients with chronic diseases.

Despite the benefits of the system, patients have to be accompanied by caregivers when doing the exercises at home. It may not suit those with complications such as cardiac conditions, added Prof Koh.

Others worry that the use of technology may affect patient-clinician rapport.

Dr Ng Yee Sien, head of rehab medicine at SGH, said: "It will no doubt help many, but it is not the silver bullet for all."

kashc@sph.com.sg

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